“If you disassemble a modern drone, VR headset, or IoT device, you’ll find mostly smartphone components.”
-Chris Dixon of a16z
Every business and organization, large and small, will be touched by IoT over the coming years whether it’s smart buildings, transportation, logistics, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, finance, energy utilization or something else. Some will be able to make it a major competitive advantage and others will just do what their competitors are doing.
Typically, the need for one or multiple IoT specialized partners comes from one of these three needs:
- The organization has a problem that could possibly be solved using IoT technology
- The organization has a bunch of connected devices stemming out of different initiatives that need to be managed and/or data output that is not yet structured
- The organization is working on an IoT approach/strategy
But with 300+ vendors claiming to have the right “IoT Platform” for your business, where do you begin? How do you pick the right IoT partners?
Here’s a 3-step guide based on our experience:
1. Define the Problem
Too many IoT projects start with a technology or solution being tested and implemented. Just like with any other IT projects, the greatest ROI comes from identifying and solving business problems.
So, start by identifying problems that the business, customers or employees are experiencing and look at how these could be solved with technology. Use tools such as DMI Active (DMI’s methodology based on Design Thinking, Lean UX and Human-Centric Design) if you don’t already have a long list.
Once you’ve identified problems, explore them to really make sure that you understand them before jumping to solution solving. Prioritise the solutions based on factors such as business impact, complexity and cost.
A pharma company that provides hardware to hospitals for patient treatment wants to better understand how the product is being used (utilization, location, results, etc.). This could give insights to product improvements, maintenance schedules, selling more equipment, training needs and more.
A beverage company finds out through data that they are missing out on 10% of revenue from existing customers due to inventory running out before the weekly delivery. The delivery team says they need to increase the amount of trucks and drivers to solve the problem, which will increase cost substantially. Would it be possible to solve this problem with better utilization of existing trucks and drivers with the help of vehicle tracking and predictive analytics?
2. Test Concepts and Solutions
With a clear problem definition, it’s time to start looking for solutions.
Integrating IoT in a new product will take time. Typically, the roadmap for any hardware combining connectivity is at least 12-18 months and it’s difficult to do anything about this. The challenge is simply the combination of hardware design, software development, building and testing a prototype, and taking the product to mass market production takes time. And at the end of this cycle there’s another 6-12 months’ lead time to make major changes to the product.
We believe that organizations should always attempt to test the concept/solution before embarking on big implementation and integration programs. And if it’s still necessary due to time pressure, then run the proof of concept in parallel as input to the core implementation program.
Some of the 300 IoT platform providers, or one of the additional thousands of sensor and connected device suppliers, will be able to provide you with solutions that can easily be prototyped. Select one or a couple of them to evaluate. Run a proof of concept rather than pilot if possible. The pilot can be integrated into the implementation.
As per previous articles on prototyping, make sure that end-user feedback is integrated every step of the way.
Also, clearly define the success criteria for the proof of concept and final implementation with KPIs that can be used to track progress towards the core objectives every step along the way.
Let’s go back to the pharma company above. To connect the device itself and integrate sensors will take at least 2 years including development, certification, security auditing and more. The company wants to test if tracking the device usage will really be worth the effort. To start with, they identify 3 different solutions with sensors using sound, motion and electric circuit measurements and does a proof of concept with all 3 in parallel. The proof of concept is implemented and evaluated in less than 2 months and achieves the desired results.
3. Choose the Best Solution Fit for You
Now the problem has been identified and a solution has been prototyped and proven to work.
Now it’s time to answer the question in the title of this article. How to choose a partner that can help implement the solution.
Pick a partner with relevant industry experience for the problem/solution (assuming there is one) to manage risk and minimize time to market. With hundreds of IoT companies in the market, most are specialized in specific verticals or use cases. Put together a list of the top 5-10 companies and select the ones to invite for a RFI or briefing. Make sure to keep the first implementation limited to the top 3-5 use cases really required and no more.
For companies that lack in-house competencies in IoT UX design, integration, development, connected analytics and security, it might be a good idea to pick a partner to help with the end-to-end implementation. This will vastly increase the chance of achieving objectives within the desired timeline.
Finally, launching the solution is only the start of the journey. Once implemented, use the data output, customer feedback and other results to optimize and improve.
A furniture manufacturer has identified an opportunity to improve time to market by end-to-end tracking of its products from manufacturing to stores. The concept has been proven with an early proof of concept. Now it’s time to choose a scalable solution. A list of the top 5 suppliers of IoT for logistics and supply chain applications is put together including Alien Technology, Cargo Sense, Xerafy, Arviem and maybe DHL as one of the top IoT-powered logistics companies. Cargo Sense is selected based on fit, cost and time to market.
Always start with the problem, then test the possible solutions and finally work with best of breed partners to implement, evaluate and continue to optimize and improve.
DMI works with top IoT solution providers such as Telit, SAP, Microsoft and 50+ other industry and solution specialists. Contact us for more information.
For more on making the most of data from your IoT initiatives, read our recap from IoT Evolution 2017 where we discuss how to turn the data into business benefit.
Magnus Jern, Chief Innovation Officer